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Own Voices: Bringing Indigenous Author Waubgeshig Rice's New Novel Into the Classroom

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Moon of the Crusted Snow is the second novel from accomplished author, journalist, and storyteller Waubgeshig Rice. Although this is a relatively short novel, it is dark and intense, powerful and gripping and best suited for grade 11 or 12 students due to the mature content in the book. I actually read this book from start to finish in a few hours because I just could not put it down. The twists and turns that this story takes are shocking and horrifying at times, and it moves at a very fast pace. It has an apocalyptic feel despite being set in a modern day society and will leave the reader thinking about the story long after it is over.

Synopsis

In a small northern Anishinaabe community, Evan Whitesky works hard to build a life for his family and support his community. With winter fast approaching, Evan tries to shore up his resources for the difficult times ahead. Things become even more difficult when, for reasons unknown, their community loses power and their ability to communicate with other communities around them. Action is swiftly taken to ration food and other resources but panic, mistrust, and fear starts to creep into the community. When outsiders begin showing up in search of help, Evan and the community must make tough decisions about whether or not helping the outsiders will do more harm than good.

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Waubgeshig Rice

Waubgeshig Rice does a masterful job of bringing to light some of the struggles that Indigenous communities face, while simultaneously focusing on their strengths and achievements. For example, the cost of food purchased from the southern communities is extremely high for people living on reservations, yet the main character, Evan, is a talented hunter. Not only does he catch most of the food that his family eats, but shares that food with his community and no part of the animal goes to waste. Although Evan was not raised learning the language of his elders, he seeks their help to reclaim that knowledge and share it with his children.

When substance abuse, domestic violence, and suicide impact their community, it is the leaders of the community who come up with ways to deal with it. The resilience of Indigenous people to continue to survive, overcome challenges, and make decisions about what is best for their communities is a critical part of this story. As is the fact that forced displacement from their homelands, and the violent erasure of their culture, language, and ceremonies is the root cause of many of the issues that the community in this novel is dealing with. (Rice, 44)

Curriculum Connections

Integrating the use of “own voices” novels in our school libraries and curriculum helps teachers to avoid problematic single story narratives that can negatively shape student’s perspectives and ideas about Indigenous, racialized, or other marginalized groups. This is an excellent novel to use with senior classes because even though it is only 213 pages, the content is mature and may be inappropriate for younger readers. However, because is not lengthy, this novel accessible even for the most reluctant of readers and will allow educators to discuss the variety of issues that are deftly woven throughout the novel.

What will happen to our society if resources become scarce?
Will we have the skills needed for survival?
Is it more important to help outsiders or is the preservation of the existing community the most important thing?

The questions and ideas that teachers can explore with this novel are endless.

This novel would be the perfect fit for the English: Understanding Contemporary First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Voices (NBE 3U or 3C) courses, but I would not limit its use to only the First Nations, Metis and Inuit Studies courses. It would also be appropriate for use in the traditional English (ENG 3U or 3C) curriculum as a whole class novel or even in smaller book club style groups. I would also consider using it in the Equity and Social Justice course (HSE 4M).

Further Reading

Teachers who are looking to include more “own voices” novels from Indigenous authors for their senior students should consider the following books:

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott
Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese (downloadable teacher's guide available)
Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga
Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq
Birdie by Tracey Lindberg
Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

>> View and download this list of books

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jonelle

Jonelle St. Aubyn started her teaching career with the Peel District School Board as a Health and Physical Education and Family Studies teacher at T.L. Kennedy Secondary School in 2002. She opened Louise Arbour Secondary School as the Head of Physical Education and transitioned to the Library Learning Commons in 2015. Since then, she has been the full-time teacher-librarian at Louise Arbour.
 
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September 24, 2019
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